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What Makes a Good Negotiator?

The Scotwork Team

If you’re struggling to understand why your negotiations aren’t securing the results you’re looking for and haven’t had the opportunity to attend a negotiation skills training course, you should start by asking yourself the following question: what makes a good negotiator? It is important to remember that no one is more innately talented at negotiation than the other, and anyone can acquire the necessary skills. Understanding what a good negotiator looks like can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and secure more successful outcomes.


Interpersonal Skills

A good negotiator boasts well-honed interpersonal skills that make them perceptive, assertive, and persuasive. They know that if the other party feels heard and their values, goals and pressures have respected that they increase their chances of securing a mutually beneficial outcome. Communication skills and tactics they use include:

  • Active listening, e.g., being present, listening to understand, making eye contact and paraphrasing.
  • Effective open-ended questioning
  • Identifying non-verbal cues
  • Empathy
  • Collaborative thinking
  • Small talk

These skills aim to build rapport, engender trust and avoid conflict and are the key to finding common ground and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement for both parties.



A defeatist mindset leaves you open to exploitative proposals and bullying strategies that damage your reputation and end in the acceptance of low-quality deals. Whilst it is sometimes easier said than done, a good negotiator believes in their ability to secure a successful outcome even after a rejected proposal.

They cultivate a positive mindset by utilising their strengths and taking steps to overcome their weaknesses. Their primary focus is on what they bring to the table, allowing them to form a confident strategy, take risks, ask difficult questions and trust their instincts. To develop self-belief, an excellent place to start is by listing your achievements and asking colleagues, friends, and family to share positive feedback. You should also consider what makes your business desirable to other companies and bear this in mind when creating alternative proposals. When it comes to areas for improvement, be prepared to argue your point and provide evidence of proactive change.



Some people view negotiations as a war with a clear winner and loser. However, a good negotiator knows that it is a collaborative effort that should end in a mutually beneficial outcome. They understand the importance of being flexible and open to suggestions and achieve this by coming prepared with a shared goal, several reasonable alternatives, and additional incentives.

Prior to any negotiation, a good negotiator will have established their ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement) and BATNA (Best Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement) using the following questions:

  • What are our must-haves, wants and motivations for this deal?
  • What are their must-haves, desires, and reasons for this deal?
  • What is the minimum we can accept?
  • What is the maximum we can offer?
  • What outcomes do you realistically plan on securing?
  • Are there any other outside interests or internal pressure we need to consider?

These questions allow a negotiator to be an adaptable problem-solver and peacekeeper that can alter their tactics and strategies and offer other equitable proposals.



Feeling confident is a product of self-belief, and confidence inspires you to take risks, be assertive and remain positive. Research suggests you are far more likely to secure a win-win scenario if you have it, as it is a crucial element in building relationships and managing conflict. A lack of confidence is often derived from a lack of experience. Our courses provide the base for your negotiations, but confidence is then developed through using the tools from the course to build negotiating experience, which then results in the confidence needed to keep you in control.

Confidence makes someone a good negotiator because it creates rapport, influences opinion, and engenders trust and belief in their proposal.  For example, say they own a printing business, and a company approaches them to supply merchandise but wants to negotiate a discounted price. A good negotiator doesn’t immediately end talks; they suggest a realistic trade, such as an extended agreement to use them on future projects. If their alternatives and incentives fail to land, they won’t make concessions that weaken their position or concede to combative or aggressive tactics. They’ll know what their time, energy and business are worth and will walk away.



Many might think being assertive means being aggressive, demanding and winning at all costs, but that isn’t true. Being assertive is all about how you communicate your confidence with others positively and constructively.

Although assertiveness might seem counter-intuitive when trying to collaborate with another party, it is essential that you remember that reaching a mutually beneficial goal still requires you to say no and advocate for your interests. Being assertive makes a good negotiator because they can decisively wield their ZOPA to ensure the end agreement is equal in the ideal win-win scenario. They leave no room for misunderstandings or intimidation tactics and gain respect from the other party and your colleagues.



Empathy, by definition, is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand why and what they are feeling. It requires compassion and understanding and can be a powerful problem-solving and peace-keeping tool.

A good negotiator uses empathy in the research stage and the negotiation process. They know it is vital to understand the other parties' motivations, pressures, and deadlines as they inform their goals, values, and negotiation strategy. They can then use this insight to influence discussions, prevent escalating agreements and remain adaptable to changing situations. A good negotiator is also empathetic towards themselves and accepts that they will make mistakes and experience setbacks.



Preparation is the key to a successful negotiation. Nobody wants to step up to the table blind to the other party’s needs, desires, and motivations, especially a good negotiator. By doing their homework, they can play to their strengths, mitigate their weaknesses, and remain flexible, increasing their chance of securing a win-win scenario.

A good negotiator knows their:

  • Opponents and understand their wants, needs, motivations, deadlines, outside interests and pressures.
  • Themselves, including their skill set, the company’s strengths and weaknesses and any additional incentives.
  • Competitors, e.g., who else offers similar services and what sets you apart from them?
  • BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)
  • ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement)

They will have also negotiated the process and agreed on the location, attendees, timings and agenda of the negotiation well in advance.


Attention to Detail

Whether reading between the lines of your discussion or carrying out additional research, the devil is in the details. A good negotiator knows that nailing the minute of a negotiation prevents future obstacles, establishes trust and creates long-lasting agreements.

The key is to take your time with your preparation and ensure you’ve:

  • Researched your opponent
  • Role-played different scenarios

No one wants to be frantically searching for a key statistic whilst trying to make a critical point or fall apart when asked a tricky surprise question. That’s why a good negotiator continuously checks the why, how, what and who behind every statistic to triple-check their information. A good negotiator will consider aftercare, too, and make plans to revisit their agreement to either renegotiate or check in on the conditions for any updates or improvements.

The Scotwork Team
More by The Scotwork Team:
Bad Negotiation Tactics
What Are Negotiation Skills?
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